RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:

And as audit comes as President Bush is requesting more money for rebuilding. The extra $1.2 billion in aid is part of a strategy that also includes a troop increase. That strategy has been fiercely debated, and NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel doesn't like what he's hearing.

TED KOPPEL: There is something profoundly dishonest about the way the current debate over troops in Iraq is unfolding. The administration is right: The consequences of a premature U.S. withdrawal would have disastrous implications for the region. And the region, in case anyone has forgotten or is too polite to mention, is the oil-rich Persian Gulf. So setting all these benchmarks for Iraqi achievements and behavior is nonsense.

What are we saying? It's too dangerous to leave because of possible consequences to the region, but if the Iraqis show that they're incapable of preventing anarchy and chaos by not meeting our benchmarks, then we're going to leave? I think what we ought to be saying is that U.S. troops will start withdrawing as Iraqis do meet the benchmarks.

We've been given to so many bad reasons why we went to war in Iraq - those weapons of mass destruction, Hussein and his neighbors, Hussein and al-Qaida, establishing democracy - that we've actually convinced ourselves that we did it for them, for the Iraqis, not because it served the U.S. national interest.

That makes it easy to depict the Iraqis as a bunch of under-performing, ungrateful wretches. And if they don't start shaping up, we're pulling out. Well, despite the vice president's bravado, things are not better in Iraq and the Persian Gulf than they were before the U.S. invaded.

They are much worse and much more dangerous to American interests. That's something the Democratic candidates for President seem to believe also. So exactly how and why do they justify pulling our troops out? Their slant on the debate it seems is equally dishonest.

I'm Ted Koppel.

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MONTAGNE: The comments of senior news analyst Ted Koppel.

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